Wednesday, August 12, 2015

At Stages St. Louis, the artistic outreach story goes on.

The cast of The Story Goes On
Photo: Peter Wochniak
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"Laws", Otto von Bismarck is reported to have said, "are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made." Had he been an actor instead of 19th-century Germany's Iron Chancellor, he might have added, "Oh, and musical theatre, too. Especially musical theatre." Because, as anyone who has ever been in a musical would tell you, a lot of blood, sweat, and tears goes into creating that seemingly effortless mix of song and dance the audience finally sees.

Nevertheless, the past Monday (August 10) Stages St. Louis fearlessly gave an audience of backers (and a few press types, including me) a look at a work in progress: The Story Goes On: The Songs of Maltby and Shire. Running around an hour, this first draft of a new revue based on the songs of the composers of (among others), Closer Than Ever, Starting Here Starting Now, Big, and Baby was a polished and entertaining glimpse behind the scenes at the creative process. Even von Bismarck would have been impressed.

The cast of The Story Goes On
L-R: Austin Hohnke, Leah Berry, Julie Cardia,
John Flack, Bronwyn Tarboton, Erik Keiser
Photo: Peter Wochniak
The Story Goes On is the first project of the Emerson American Musical Creative. Established by Emerson in conjunction with Stages back in 2013, the project is designed to establish St. Louis as a hub for the creation of new American musical theater productions. "Emerson and Stages are both committed to progress in our respective worlds and we could not be more proud at Stages to merge Emerson's name with our newest division," said Stages Executive Producer Jack Lane in a 2013 press release. "The musical is truly an indigenous American art form, though its existence has become threatened due to the radical expenses of producing on Broadway. Throughout the last twenty years, a number of forward thinking regional theatres have established nurturing and safe environments in which to create new works. The majority of the great Broadway musicals of the past two decades were in fact created outside of New York... I look forward to the day when St. Louis will be known as the home of great new American musicals."

Based on what I saw Monday night, that day may have arrived.

Stages Triple Threats
The sneak peek at The Story Goes On was part of Cheers!, Stages' annual cabaret fundraiser. The evening included a performance by Triple Threats, the company's program of musical theatre students in grades 5 through 8, along with lively byplay by hosts Kari Ely (a Stages veteran and a popular local actress) and Brennan Caldwell (making his first Stages appearance this season). There was also an auction and a raffle, bringing the total amount raised at the event to over $77,000.00 for Stages' artistic and outreach programs—not shabby for one night.

And the company's outreach programs continue to flourish. On July 28th, the Employee Community Fund of the Boeing Company announced funding for Stages' Access the Arts programming. The grant will support staffing and costs for outreach residencies at partner sites as well as courses and workshops offered at the Stages Performing Arts Academy in Chesterfield. Access the Arts provides classes, workshops, and performance opportunities enabling children with physical, cognitive, and developmental challenges, including Down syndrome, visual impairments, and autism, to participate fully in the musical theatre arts. It serves over 350 students annually.

Stages flawless presentation of Anything Goes closes this weekend—final performance is Sunday the 16th—and then the company opens its production of The Full Monty on September 4th. Based on the 1997 British comedy, the show boasts a by noted playwright Terrence McNally and music by David Yazbeck. Fore more information, check out the Stages web site.

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